The Archaeological Potential of Secondary Contexts

Robert Hosfield, Jenni Chambers, Phil Toms, 2007

Data copyright © Dr Robert Hosfield, Jenni Chambers, Dr Phil Toms unless otherwise stated

This work is licensed under the ADS Terms of Use and Access.
Creative Commons License

Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund logo
English Heritage logo

Primary contact

Dr Robert Hosfield
Department of Archaeology, School of Human and Environmental Science
University of Reading
PO Box 227

Send e-mail enquiry

Resource identifiers

Digital Object Identifiers

Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) are persistent identifiers which can be used to consistently and accurately reference digital objects and/or content. The DOIs provide a way for the ADS resources to be cited in a similar fashion to traditional scholarly materials. More information on DOIs at the ADS can be found on our help page.

Citing this DOI

The updated Crossref DOI Display guidelines recommend that DOIs should be displayed in the following format:
Sample Citation for this DOI

Robert Hosfield, Jenni Chambers, Phil Toms (2007) The Archaeological Potential of Secondary Contexts [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

University of Southampton logo


The project assesses the Palaeolithic stone tool assemblages recovered from the flood deposits of Middle and Late Pleistocene (787-11,000 BP) rivers in the UK (described as archaeological secondary contexts). The stone tool assemblages are distributed across southern Britain, while Pleistocene flood (fluvial) deposits are distributed throughout the UK. The stone tool assemblages and their associated fluvial deposits vary in age from at least 700,000 years old to the end of the Paleolithic period (c. 11,000 years BP). The importance of archaeological secondary contexts therefore stems from their widespread geographical distribution and extensive chronological coverage.

This project assesses the value of the archaeological secondary context resource in terms of the unique spatio-temporal structure of the data, assemblage taphonomy, appropriate analytical frameworks and the potential of the resource for current and future understanding of the Palaeolithic period. The project report discusses a series of key themes and case studies. Key results are summarised below:

  • Fluvial activity phases were episodic and short-lived. Understanding the chronology of the formation of Pleistocene fluvial sediments is critical as they are the context for the Palaeolithic stone tool assemblages.
  • Valuable behavioural data can be extracted from secondary context assemblages.
  • Artefact behaviour in fluvial environments is highly complex and can be explored through individual artefact-based models of spatial derivation.
  • Contrasting data scales do not permit high resolution palaeoenvironmental evidence and derived artefact data to be directly equated. Reconstructed paleoenvironments are therefore examples of some of the types of habitats that existed, but they cannot be explicitly populated with pre-modern human artefacts.
  • New interpretive frameworks must originate from the evaluated spatio-temporal stucture of the resource.
  • A wider range of data could be recovered from secondary contexts than currently results from standard watching brief practices. Future recommendations are suggested.

The project demonstrates that archaeological secondary contexts are a critical archaeological resource. It presents new methodologies for modelling the unique spatio-temporal scales associated with the resource, and for interpreting the data contained within archaeological secondary contexts.

ADS logo
Data Org logo
University of York logo